If cortisol (stress) is supposed to help us be prepared for life or death situations, then why do a lot of people (incl. me) make such stupid mistakes when under it’s influence?


I’m mostly talking about social interactions mostly – like when you forget the most important thesis during exam, getting pizza sizes wrong when ordering or when prompted a question “what are chips made from?” and you answer “fries”

In: 23

Because the kind of stress you experience is not the kind of stress that we evolved to deal with.

The kind of stress we were prepared for historically was “oh shit I’m about to die.” This gets our bodies ready to fight or run away. It isn’t really complex decision-making.

Modern stress is not something that we evolved to deal with.

In general evolutionary traits only have to be more successful in a population than the alternative, additionally their can be other cultural or biological factors that can mask or mitigate the negative aspects.

There is two aspects to this, partially it is what the other person said. Stress was designed *specifically* for life-or-death situations, not test taking. Stress was meant to help us survive but is not well adapted for modern stressors, like test taking or being suddenly told you get two sides with your meal instead of one. So, the responses stress causes aren’t really designed to help in those situations, it’s just the only reaction the body is designed to have.

Additionally, there are two types of stress. Acute and chronic. Acute stress is what you think of fight or flight and is caused by epinephrine/adrenaline (your body releases cortisol too, but the feeling you have is mainly caused by adrenaline). This is the one that makes your heartbeat faster, gives you a burst of energy, etc. This, again, was designed to help you fight for your life, not pass a test. Cortisol causes mostly *chronic* stress, which is something we really aren’t adapted for at all. When you constantly have stressors over a long time, your body constantly releases cortisol. This has negative impacts on your blood sugar, immune system, blood pressure, weight, mood, impairs your sleep cycle, etc. Allowing yourself to be too constantly stressed out and have too much cortisol flowing all the time causes more long-term effects than anything, and can cause long term impairments to both your physical and mental health.

This is why stress management is important, and having stress outlets improves both physical and mental wellbeing.

I have read, but am having trouble finding the information online now, that in a real, “DO IT NOW OR DIE!” situation, you may be better off if your brain shuts off and you just panic. Instinct takes over and you get away any way you can, while someone who doesn’t will think, “Is this the best way to run or tha….”, or “Should I fight it or ru….”, with the sentence ending abruptly because they die.

Cortisol tries to prepare you for this sort of situation, a situation where thinking is deadly and freaking out is good. Good for cavemen, perhaps, but maybe not so good for being asked out, dealing with a spider, or speaking in front of people.

As many people eluded to… its basically to stop a sabertooth tiger from eating you or your tribe when its freezing outside. It’s not to help you remember what size pizza to order on your smartphone in a warm house after you had probably a good breakfast and lunch.

This comes up in theorpy a lot especially when talking about “burn out”. We evolved based on that tiger and cold but when the tiger went away and we got warm from the fire it went down. Now a days it’s like wake up, I have 50 bills, a 30 year morgage, interacting constantly with people and need to order this 12″ pizza for the family by 5. Then go to sleep with 40 bills and a 30 year morgage. So it doesn’t decrease ita just a constant. So people burn out and make mistakes.